Fri, Mar 28, 2008 - Page 3 News List

MOFA rejects Downer's criticism of its diplomacy

MISUNDERSTOOD? FORMER AUSTRALIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ALEXANDER DOWN

STAFF WRITER , WITH CNA

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) yesterday rebutted former Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer's "checkbook diplomacy" accusation, saying that all the nation's aid programs were carried out on the basis of cooperation and contributed to the international community.

"Cooperation and development programs are an obligation and the responsibility of every advanced nation in the international community. They should not be described as `checkbook diplomacy,'" said Victor Yu (于德勝), deputy director-general of the ministry's Department of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, at a regular press briefing.

Downer, who was in Taipei last week as part of an international parliamentary delegation to observe the presidential election, was quoted by the Australian Broadcasting Corp on Wednesday as saying that president-elect Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) had given him a personal assurance that the new government would stop paying political bribes and improve its behavior in its dealings with South Pacific nations.

Downer claimed that under President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) administration there had been a lot of "checkbook diplomacy," specifically with the Solomon Islands.

"There are clearly bribes that are being paid to members of parliament ... That has been undermining the work that we have been doing in RAMSI, the Regional Assistance Mission in Solomon Islands, in particular," Downer was quoted as saying in the report.

Both Taiwan and China have been accused of checkbook diplomacy in the Pacific, of using financial aid to gain the support of politicians in targeted countries. Taiwan's aid and grant programs to the Solomon Islands, one of its diplomatic allies in the region, have come under strong criticism in Canberra.

Commenting on Downer's accusations, MOFA spokeswoman Phoebe Yeh (葉非比) said that the Australian government sometimes misunderstands the nation's aid programs in the South Pacific region and that the Australian media often misinterpreted such efforts as checkbook diplomacy in the competition between Taiwan and China.

Meanwhile, Yu said Downer had misrepresented Ma's statement on the issue.

"All the resources that the nation has contributed are project-oriented and have generated substantial positive effects on the local economy and on society," Yu said. "Downer distorted what Ma actually meant."

Ma said in an international press conference on Sunday that the new government would focus on areas of economic, scientific and technological cooperation with the nation's diplomatic allies and would make sure that aid money did not go into the pockets of politicians.

Yu said that all cooperation projects required financial investment and what Taiwan was doing was sharing its know-how and technology to help its diplomatic allies.

He said that medical services were one of the nation's most important contributions in the region. From 2006 to last year, Taiwan sent as many as 24 "mobile medical groups" to the South Pacific to provide medical services to 15,000 people, he said.

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